More than 2,000 people have been caught up in postal scams in Lancashire.
Today, Stef Hall speaks to one pensioner who lost hundreds of pounds to scammers.
A frail pensioner whose life is dominated by dealing with correspondence from scammers, today supported a postal crackdown on mail scams.
The 82-year-old, from Faringdon Park in Preston, has spent around £800 responding to scam letters and catalogues, and, despite stopping sending cash, unscrupulous firms have carried on targeting her, with at least 30 items a week sent to her home.
Figures today reveal at least 2,000 people like her have posted replies to suspected scam mail in Lancashire – but for the first time, a revolutionary new scheme to seize them means victims could have their money returned.
As part of our Fake Lancashire series, Lancashire Trading Standards are highlighting the project, which has already seen more than 50 vulnerable Lancastrians have money returned to them before it reaches the hands of fraudsters.
Postal staff and Trading Standards officers are assessing 2,000 pieces of suspicious post seized since the National Trading Standards Scams Team and Royal Mail launched the project in June.
More than 6,000 items of mail have been returned across the UK, with more than £108,000 returned to victims nationally.
December is one of the worst times for fraudsters targeting people with gift or food catalogues, which often promise a cash prize if the victim orders goods – usually at vastly inflated prices. The pensioner, who used to work at the Bond three wheeler car factory in Preston, lives alone, has no children, and is virtually housebound. She had ordered from the catalogues because she finds it hard to get out.
She said: “It’s wonderful people who are affected like I have been could be given their money back.
“I have stopped sending money off now, but they continue to bombard me with mail. It gets me down. I fill my bin with it most days.
“I’ve lost so much money, if I had the opportunity to get it back through a scheme like this I would have been delighted.”
She is believed to be the victim of a sucker list, where fraudsters and scammers trade the details of vulnerable people they believe will respond to scam prize draws and mail order firms.
In one cruel encounter she ordered an item from a company, with the firm promising a “large cash prize”.
A few days later she received a cheque – for 41p.
The project forms part of Lancashire Trading Standards’ behind-the-scenes work to protect people from being ripped off, which they have given the Evening Post exclusive access to.
Victims identified by the scheme receive their money back in a visit from a Lancashire Trading Standards officer, in a bid to educate them and prevent them responding in future.
Postal scams are notorious for targeting the elderly and other vulnerable people.
County Coun Janice Hanson said: “It is often very difficult to persuade vulnerable, often elderly, individuals that letters telling them they have won large sums of money are scams.
“The fact that we are able to directly contact them with the money they sent, along with very clear advice, should really help to break the cycle in so many cases.
“Every cheque or money returned is another person helped and another blow to the criminals, so I’m delighted with the progress made so far and we look forward to continuing this important work.”
The authorities have obtained a “sucker list” of 160,000 people who have been identified by scammers as easy targets, and their names are being passed to Lancashire’s trading standards officers to make victims aware they are being targeted.